By: Peer Career Coach Esteban Lopez
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” This quote is by Socrates, a classical Greek philosopher who was known for being a nuisance to everyone he met in the streets of Athens. This is a guy who literally walked around and asked people questions; questions that would receive a response, to which he would respond with more questions. Socrates’s goal was to get people thinking in the hopes that they understood what they were doing and why they were doing it. He wanted people to live authentic lives, whereby the decisions that they made were well thought out and with purpose.
Little did Socrates know that this advice wouldn’t just help spawn a new age of thought, it would also assist in career development. Many students at IIT come here to study something in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM). I have been at IIT since 2015 studying Mechanical Engineering and knew that I wanted to get a job somewhere interesting doing something cool, but wasn’t entirely sure what that was. As a STEM student, you are faced with an abundance of industries and job-types to choose from for internships, co-ops, and full-time careers. How do you decide which one is right for you? It starts by knowing who you are.
Knowing who you are is what Socrates was referring to in the quote above and it is the topic that I would like to discuss with you today. A person who walks into their job/internship search with a knowledge of who they are (what strengths they possess, what they are looking for in a career, what type of work are they hoping to do day-to-day) will emerge much more successful than someone who walks into this journey with the mentality of “I am open for anything”. There are a variety of reasons to investigate yourself including:
Applications: There are a variety of companies in a multitude of industries that IIT students can work for, and there is a plethora of applications online that can be filled out for the overabundance of jobs that each of these companies is seeking candidates for. This process is easily narrowed down once a person knows what career they are looking for. You don’t have to get too specific about what you want in a company or job experience, but it is helpful to know what you do and don’t want to experience. Furthermore, when you write a cover letter for an application, you should have specific and thought-out reasoning as to why you are interested in the job. It doesn’t work to say: “I want to work for Boeing because I love airplanes and want to help make them!” There are many other organizations that are involved in the aerospace industry, and many organizations involved in data, software, utilities, automotive, technology, and more. To convince these giants to choose us, we also need to convince ourselves: Why this one?
Career Fair: If you like talking, you will like the career fair! The career fair is an amazing opportunity where students and company representatives get to go past the computer screen and form real-life connections. The purpose of the career fair is for candidates to learn what companies are about and companies to learn about candidates beyond the resume. Most people who have gone to a career fair know that the first question many companies ask is, “Tell me about yourself and what you are looking for.” Not really a question, but an open-ended invitation where you can say anything about yourself! It goes without saying that knowing who you are is especially important here. Many students have their elevator pitches ready-to-go, and deliver a well-versed 30-second monologue that describes what they are studying, what experiences they have, and what they are looking for. To create the elevator-pitch, one must first understand themselves; what their past is, what they are doing now, and where they hope to be in the near future.
Interviews: A Career Coach at IIT named Akshar Patel (now Director of Corporate Innovation at Kaplan) advised me as a freshman, “The reason that so many people struggle at interviews is because they don’t know who they are. The interview is a 45 minute to hour long session where the entire conversation is about you: your background, your aspirations (‘Where do you hope to see yourself in five years’ for instance), and why they should pick you. If you haven’t put enough thought into what you are doing and why, that hour is going to be rough.” The first step of mastering the interview is to relax. This is nothing more than a conversation, and it should flow as one! The second step is understanding your resume and yourself enough to deliver well-thought responses to the questions you are asked.
“Great! Now I know how important it is to learn about myself. But how exactly do I do that?” I am glad you asked! There are a variety of techniques and activities that you can do to self-reflect and ponder, most of which you probably already know about. “Since I already know about it, why bother telling me?” Consider the saying, “Common knowledge, not common practice.” This means there are things that most people know about but fail to implement. When you are reading these suggestions, ask yourself “Is this something that can benefit me? If it is, am I doing it?” Let’s get right into it:
Strengths Gallup Assessment: The Strengths Gallup Assessment is an assessment test that tells you what your top strengths are out of a list of 32. The probability of finding someone who has the same 5 strengths is astronomically low, as the assessment asks many questions to find the best 5 strengths for you. This isn’t your average Buzzfeed quiz, this is a legitimate tool that industry uses to maximize productivity and profits. A year ago, I went to a national conference for an organization called SHPE, and attended a talk given by Caterpillar Inc (a designer and manufacturer of construction equipment). The talk was on using your strengths in the workplace. During the talk, the speaker (an HR representative that specialized in talent recruitment) discussed the Gallup Assessment; Caterpillar encourages their employees to take the assessment and share the results with their supervisors, this way teams can be organized to achieve the most success out of all their members. Imagine how amazing that interview could go if you already knew your 5 strengths and how you use them in your work. At the least, the assessment gives you a quick answer for the common question, “What are your strengths?” This assessment is normally $20-$40, but Career Services provides a free assessment for every Illinois Tech student. For more information, visit: https://web.iit.edu/career-services/strengths-illinois-tech
Reading: If you have time to watch a Netflix episode, you also have time to read. According to the Pew Research Center, 24% of American adults haven’t read a book (either in part or in full, and neither physical nor electronic) in the past year. Many billionaires and successful entrepreneurs rave about the importance reading takes in their lives. For me, reading is a tool to broaden my perspective and understanding and brings me closer to myself every day. That is, it allows me to learn what I believe in, what I want, and why I make the decisions that I do. Any book will do, but if you are stuck on a book to read, I highly recommend Steve Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I am not one for self-help books, but this one is different in that it focuses on 7 main changes you can implement in your life that will offer you better guidance, help you be more efficient with your time, and help you come to a fuller sense of self. You can also read a book on movies, your favorite type of food, travel science- whatever type of book gets you reading!
Writing: “Those who read, write.” Writing can be via any medium: computer, journal, chalk on the ground, on the back of a napkin, etc. The goal here is to gather your thoughts and organize them. It’s like having a discussion with yourself with the benefit that it is recorded so you can drop off and pick up wherever and whenever. The main reason for not writing that I hear is, “I don’t know what to write about.” Worry not! Here are five questions geared toward understanding yourself (oriented towards your career goals):
- What is the importance of a job’s location when deciding whether to take it or not?
- Which skills of yours do you want to use daily? Do you prefer coding to be your day-to-day, discussing and formulating ideas with a multifunctional team, or both?
- What work have you done in the past didn’t feel like work because it was so much fun?
- Do you prefer working with teams or individually? If teams, what kind of team do you enjoy, and what role do you specifically like playing on the team?
- Why did I choose my major?
Join a Club on Campus: Another piece of hard advice given to me was, “Take interest in your major.” There are thousands of students going to school and graduating every year across the United States, and thousands upon thousands more across the globe. A company wants to hire someone who (1) Can do the job, (2) Wants to do the job, and (3) Fits well with the team. Have you convinced yourself that you enjoy your major? If so, which aspects of your major are you more interested in? The easiest hiring decisions are made when the person whom they are hiring has already done the job during their college career. Have you completed projects that show the employer that you are capable of their work? If you want to work for Google, have you created an app, website, or parsed through data? If you prefer NASA, have you designed a satellite or robot with the stringent requirements it must pass as a result of the harsh space environment it will be in? Join a club and find out what these experiences are like! At the least, you will find that these are activities that you don’t enjoy doing. Knowing what you don’t want to do is just as useful as knowing what you do want to do. This knowledge will give you the ability to offer more thoughtful responses to the question “Why do you want to work for…?” Visit Hawklink to learn what organizations are currently active on campus: https://hawklink.iit.edu/Organizations
Stay Up-To-Date on Current Affairs: Companies are always evolving; The IIT you started going to is different than the IIT you are leaving. Know what changes they are implementing! This will teach you what you are interested in. If you like law firms in the city of Chicago, learn which ones seem the most appealing to you based off of their most recent cases. With the access of all man’s knowledge available at our fingertips, it is easier than ever to know what is going on in the world. The best way I have found of keeping up company news is liking the companies I am a little interested in on LinkedIn and scrolling through LinkedIn every few days. Hint, when an employer is seeking potential candidates, they can use LinkedIn to see what people have been most active with their company profile page (by liking and commenting on their posts).
The best investment you can make is in yourself. I hope that after reading this, you will continually put deposits into your personal learning.